‘Sometimes I’m so lonely it hurts’
Friends, great job, fun city living, even a constantly buzzing phone – Radhika Sanghani isn’t what you expect when you think of our growing epidemic of loneliness. But that, she says, is where you’re wrong…
Iam Radhika Sanghani, I’m 28 years old, and I am lonely. It might not look like it from the outside. I have more than 14,000 followers on social media, my diary is full of post-work drinks and, right now, I have at least 25 Whatsapp conversations on the go. But, deep down, sometimes I’m so lonely it hurts.
This is not easy to admit. Even though 2.4 million Britons suffer from chronic loneliness, according to an ONS report last year, none of us talk about it. In our society, it’s still seen as an embarrassing taboo. This is the first time I’m talking about it publicly, and right now, I can’t shake the fear that everyone reading this article will think I’m completely pathetic and judge me for it.
But the truth is that there’s a high chance many people reading this will be able to relate. One in five of us is estimated to suffer from loneliness in the UK – particularly young people, who are more likely to have more online connections than ‘real’ ones. It’s becoming such an epidemic that the Prime Minister is launching a national loneliness strategy – which includes dance and cookery lessons to help people connect – and for children in schools to be taught about loneliness.
I felt lonely for the first time when I went to university in London. I’d grown up in the city, so I thought I’d be fine, but while all my friends went off to campus universities and quickly found big, fun groups of friends, I struggled. I was surrounded by older, international students who didn’t embrace the lifestyle, and when I’d walk to a lecture through Oxford Street, I felt like just one more anonymous person in a big city.
Though I did eventually make friends, it was never the typical group I’d craved ever since I watched my first episode of Friends. I’d look at schoolmates posting photos of fancy-dress parties on Facebook and wonder why they were having the time of their lives while I was just watching them through my phone in my PJS. What was wrong with me?
The loneliness was so painful that I spent the rest of my twenties trying to avoid it. I befriended as many people as I could – fellow journalist students during my Masters, colleagues at work, my boyfriend’s friends, people at my yoga class – and made sure my week was always full of plans so that I’d never end up in that situation again.
But two years ago, when I split up with my long-term boyfriend, the loneliness came back. It was excruciating. He’d been my best friend, the one person who truly understood me and, suddenly, he was gone. The second I was single, I realised that, bar my family, there wasn’t really anyone else I had that level of closeness with. While I had dozens of people I could message to go for a drink, I had very few friends I could call at 3am, crying hysterically.
The pain of this realisation was tough – and a shock. Ever since my university experience, I’d always prided myself on having lots of friends. But the reality was that without my boyfriend’s groups, I only had a few university friends – most of whom had since moved abroad – and my school friends, who I was slowly growing apart from.
While we still got on just as well as always, our lives were changing. Most of them were engaged and excited to settle down and start new stages of their lives. In contrast, I was newly single and wasn’t even sure what country I wanted to live in. Our values were changing, and it meant I felt lonelier than ever.
In the end, I forced myself to start doing different things: signing up for activities on websites like Meetup, making new friends wherever I could, volunteering to visit elderly people struggling with loneliness, and connecting more with my friends who lived abroad. It’s all slowly paying off, and I do feel like I now have more connections in my life with people who see the world the same way I do. But these friendships are still new. I can’t expect them to drop everything for me, and often we end up just seeing each other on occasional week-nights: most people save weekends for their partners or friends they’ve known for years.
It’s all better than it was, and I know I’m not exactly alone in my life. But the loneliness is still there. The thought of a Saturday night with no plans can fill me with fear – especially now that I work freelance and spend even more time alone than before. The few times I’ve tried to share this feeling with friends, my words have been met with an awkward denial: ‘Don’t be silly, you’ve got loads of friends!’
The problem is that people assume if you’re not ‘alone’, you’re not lonely. But that’s not always the case. While loneliness can be exacerbated by being alone, some of my loneliest moments have been where I’ve been surrounded by people I have nothing in common with. As humans, we naturally just want to be seen, understood and heard. We need to be part of a community, and when we don’t have that, the loneliness comes creeping in.
More than half of British adults find it difficult to admit to loneliness, but it’s a stigma that needn’t exist, and it’s one I want to help eradicate. So many of us feel this way, so why do we hide it? Loneliness doesn’t define us – it’s just something that affects us, and the less we talk about it, the worse the damage. I’ve shared my story here, and I’m going to continue to do so on social media via the hashtag #Imlonelytoo. If you’re one of the one in four who can relate to this, join me, and let’s start to break the lonely taboo.
a saturday night with no plans can fill me with fear